Blogs & Videos: Evolution

Strange sea-dwelling reptile fossil hints at rapid evolution after mass extinction

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, life on earth was in a tail-spin—climate change, volcanic eruptions, and rising sea levels contributed to a mass extinction that makes the death of the dinosaurs look like child’s play. Marine life got hit hardest—96% of all marine species went extinct. For a long time, scientists believed that the early marine reptiles that came about after the mass extinction evolved slowly, but the recent discovery of a strange new fossil brings that view into question.

“Hammerhead” creature was world’s first plant-eating marine reptile

In 2014, scientists discovered a bizarre fossil—a crocodile-sized sea-dwelling reptile that lived 242 million years ago in what today is southern China. Its head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like beak. But in a paper published today in Science Advances, paleontologists reveal what was really going on—that “beak” is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, which it used to feed on plants on the ocean floor. It’s the earliest known example of an herbivorous marine reptile.

How to Beat Extinction: Live Fast, Die Young

When you don’t know if you have much of a future, you focus more on the now—there’s no point in biding your time and waiting when you could die any day. It seems that evolution follows this rule too—a recent study published by Field Museum scientists in Scientific Reports reveals that for Lystrosaurus (pygmy hippo-sized mammal relatives that lived with the dinosaurs), when the going got tough, the tough got busy.

What is a species?

New species of lifeforms are being discovered and described on our planet every single day -- but, when we talk about a species, what are we really referring to? Turns out, the answer is... complicated. This video is by no means comprehensive. Species concepts are some of the most complex and, at times, controversial topics in biology. This video ought to serve as your window down into the rabbit hole. If you're interested in this sort of thing, check out some of the articles below! 

Tea Parties, Bird Barf, and Rat Skulls

At tea parties, etiquette is key. You need to know which spoon to use, whether to pour the milk or the tea first, and, when a fellow scientist hands you an owl pellet for your research, how to graciously accept it and dissect it right there at the table. Field Museum collections manager Bill Stanley was at a garden tea party in Tanzania when a colleague handed him a coffee can containing an owl pellet for him to study. The hacked-up mass of fur and bones contained the key to a scientific discovery—the skull of a rat never before seen in the region.

“Scarface”: The Dachshund-sized Pre-mammal with a (Possibly) Venomous Bite

Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, huge volcanic eruptions triggered a mass extinction bigger than the one that ended the dinosaurs, changing life on earth forever. Field Museum scientist Ken Angielczyk and his colleagues are now studying this event, the Permian-Triassic Extinction, to learn about how communities bounce back after falling apart. And one newly discovered ancient mammal relative is helping them get closer to their answers—meet “Scarface.”

Monsters Storm The Field

Invertebrate paleontologists aren’t afraid of anything, so when Collections Manager Paul Mayer was offered a chance to add hundreds of monsters to The Field’s collections, he jumped at the opportunity. The monsters in question, Tully monsters, are just a small part of the enormous donation of Thomas V. Testa’s collection of Mazon Creek fossils that The Field Museum just received from Field Associate Jack Wittry.  

New Discoveries in How Animal Moms-to-Be Feed Their Babies

Pop quiz—what kinds of animal mothers feed their babies before birth? The first (and maybe only) ones to come to mind are probably mammals like us—moms-to-be funnel nutrients from their blood supply right to their developing embryos through an organ called the placenta; the moms literally “eat for two.” That’s a different kind of nourishment than you see in most other animals—the majority lay eggs with a nutritious yolk for the embryo to use as it develops.

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